10c Motorcycle Special Delivery Die Proofs

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The victory of Warren G. Harding in the 1920 U.S. Presidential election ushered in a new Republican administration. Among the new appointees in the Post Office Department was Third Assistant Postmaster General W. Irving Glover. His duties would include the responsibilities for postage stamps. Glover was a savvy politician and businessman from New Jersey whose wife and political friends were serious stamp collectors. He quickly recognized that if the Post Office Department catered to stamp collectors, both entities could benefit from the relationship.

Among Glover’s early actions was his revamping of the nation’s postage stamps. The first stamp to receive this attention was the current special delivery stamp whose bicycle messenger design had been in use since 1902. A new design would show a motorcycle messenger to reflect the fact that the post office was mechanizing. Glover’s practice of publicizing the release of new stamps on specified dates and at specific locations began with this issue. It was announced that the new special delivery stamp would be made available to collectors and dealers on July 12, 1922 at the Philatelic Stamp Agency in Washington, DC. Glover also promoted the new stamp in a number of other ways. He arranged to have the press catch Postmaster General Hubert Work being the first person in line at the Philatelic Stamp Agency to buy the new stamp (Picture). It was also announced that PMG Work “will present the stamp he bought to the President along with a die proof prepared from the master die.”

While it was once the policy of the Post Office Department to distribute die proofs of the nation’s stamps as favors, the practice ended in January 1905 at the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt. The increasing demand and the criticism of unfairness in distribution apparently resulted in the end of the policy. Glover was well aware of his breach of the current policy, but he was also aware that his office and that of the Postmaster General were highly political ones and that the gift of a proof of a new postage stamp to the right individual could have a positive influence on their operations.

Thirteen more 10-cent motorcycle die proofs, mostly as gifts, would eventually leave the premises of the Post Office Department and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP).

An explanation of a large die proof can be accessed by clicking here. Other supporting documents may be accessed as well by clicking on their red entries within this article.

The Motorcycle Design

Glover ordered the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) on March 13 to start work on a new special delivery stamp. Being a hands-on manager who took a professional interest in the many aspects of his organization, particularly new stamps, Glover suggested that “The messenger boy might be shown at the door of a house about to deliver a letter with his motorcycle resting against the curb, similar to the subject of the 2-cent parcel post stamp, which shows a city carrier delivering mail, or he might be shown riding his motorcycle with a mail bag on his back.”

The BEP responded to Glover’s request with two stamp drawings for his evaluation. Glover selected the home delivery model, but asked the BEP for some variations in the design. Four new drawings of the home delivery model were submitted to Glover who on April 14 selected the below drawing for the new special delivery stamp.

The drawing is an original illustration by C. Aubrey Huston of the BEP. It is part of the W. L. L. Peltz Special Delivery Stamp Collection which was donated to Brown University in 1946 and is found in the archives of its John Hay Library. How Peltz obtained the drawing is not known. It is interesting that philatelic writers initially identified Huston’s motorcycle as an Indian Chief manufactured by the Hendee Manufacturing Company who in 1923 changed their name to the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. A Gary Griffith article in the July, 2000 issue of Scott’s Monthly Stamp News illustrated that the motorcycle is actually based on a Harley-Davidson.

The 10-cent Motorcycle Die

Louis S. Schofield was given responsibility for engraving the vignette and frame of the new stamp. A die blank, numbered 684, was assigned to the project. Die proofs would be pulled to evaluate the engraving progress as Schofield worked on the die. The first proof was pulled on May 29 so that Schofield could check out his initial engraving. Thirty one more proofs were pulled by June 8 to monitor progress of not only Schofield, but that of Edward M. Hall who had the responsibility for lettering and numerals. Normal practice was to eventually destroy such proofs after their use, but BEP records indicate that two of the thirty-two die proofs were not reported as being destroyed. One of them, proof 1159490 (Fig. 1), somehow left the BEP. Unlike presentation die proofs, the excess proof paper outside of the die sinkage on this die proof was not trimmed off. There are some engraving differences between it and later approved 10-cent Motorcycle die proofs (Comparison). I do not know the status of the other proof (1159740).

The June 10 Die Proofs

A die proof was sent to Glover on June 12 for his approval of the final engraving and the approval signature of Postmaster General Work. It was accompanied by ten additional die proofs that had been requested by Glover. They would be held for whatever future uses deemed them necessary by the Post Office Department. Their eventual dispositions are discussed later. This practice would be continued for other new issues. These eleven die proofs were part of a run of fifteen die proofs pulled on June 10. One of them, proof 1160108, is an unusual black trial color proof that was requisitioned by Schofield (Fig. 2). It is possible that he was allowed to make and keep a sample of his work.

According to BEP records, die proof 1160096 was approved and signed (Fig. 3) by the Postmaster General on June 20 and returned to the BEP. There is evidence that he also signed other 10-cent Motorcycle die proofs in the Post Office Department inventory. A letter dated June 26 then authorized the BEP to prepare the necessary printing plates for the new special delivery stamp.


The first flat press 10-cent Motorcycle printing plates went to press on July 7. It had been announced that the new special delivery stamp would be made available to collectors on July 12, the first day of issue, at the Philatelic Stamp Agency in Washington, DC. The finishing operations of gumming, perforating, and slitting into panes of 50 stamps were performed on some of the printed sheets of 200 stamps. 500 panes were delivered to the Philatelic Stamp Agency for its first day operation. 100 panes were also delivered to the Washington, DC Post Office.

The flat press Special Delivery Stamp of 1922 (Scott E12) would be replaced by its rotary press version (Scott E15) in 1927. It was much more economical to use the rotary presses. Sixty-nine flat press printing plates were used for Scott E12. Sixteen rotary plates were used from 1927 to 1944 for Scott E15.

President Harding

As mentioned earlier, a signed die proof was presented by PMG Work to President Harding on the first day of issue. This proof (1160101) eventually ended up in an April 17, 1979 Sotheby Parke Bernet auction where it sold for $1,200. Like some other presentation proofs, it has a stamp from the first production run attached to it. My scan is from the auction catalogue since I have never seen this proof (Fig. 4).

International Exposition

Two sets of die proofs of all United States postage stamps printed since 1914 were prepared as part of a Post Office Department exhibit for the International Centennial Exposition at Rio de Janeiro in September, 1922. These sets were combined with two sets of die proofs of all United States postage stamps from 1847 to 1914 which had previously been assembled. 10-cent Motorcycle die proofs 1162118 and 1162119 were pulled by the BEP to meet the need.

The Fourth Bureau Issue

The Report of Postmaster General Hubert Work for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1922 mentioned that a new series of ordinary postage stamps would replace the current Washington and Franklin ordinary postage stamps. This series become known as the Fourth Bureau Issue. Its new designs included portraits of individuals of prominence in the history of our country as well as views of national interest. Because the Post Office Department considered the 1922 Special Delivery stamp and the Fourth Bureau Issue to be a set, much of what is to be said of the 10-cent motorcycle die proof also holds true for die proofs of the new series which debuted in October.

Harry S. New

Postmaster General Work became the Secretary of the Interior on March 4, 1923. He was replaced by Harry S. New, a former U.S. senator from Indiana. New, a highly political individual, would learn shortly from Glover about gifts of die proofs.

The Joynson-Hicks Album

A set of large proofs of the new series of ordinary stamps, bound in a leather album, was presented to Sir William Joynson-Hicks, the Postmaster General of Great Britain. The presentation was made by Glover on behalf of Postmaster General New. The occasion was the International Stamp Exhibition in London in May, 1923. The album contained the 21 die proofs of the Fourth Bureau Issue and the 10-cent Motorcycle die proof, all pulled on India paper. None of the proof cards were signed and the control numbers on the card reverses were removed. The cards were reduced to 148 mm by 195 mm and the cloth backing attaching the proofs to the album covered 12 mm of the left side of the cards (Fig. 5). Glover also brought to England a frame of United States proofs and stamps. Fourth Bureau Issue proofs and the 10-cent Motorcycle proof, reduced to stamp size, are shown enlarged on a picture of the exhibit (Fig. 6). This framed exhibit would also tour the United States.

Two more Special Delivery proofs, 1217818 and 1217819, had been pulled on May 2. Which was used for the Joynson-Hicks album and which became part of the Post Office Department exhibit is not known. The album would eventually surface in an auction on August 26, 1990. It was sold intact, but was shortly broken up with the proofs being sold to several collectors.

PMG New Learns the Ropes

President Harding died unexpectantly in August, 1923. PMG New ordered a black Harding memorial stamp. Thirteen die proofs of the new Harding stamp were presented to several individuals. Among them were the late President’s widow and father, Glover, and Mrs. New. The new postmaster general was a fast learner.

Album R

Album R was an album of Fourth Bureau die proofs assembled on February 7, 1925 and retained by the Post Office Department. 10-cent Motorcycle proof 1160095, like the other proofs in the album, was unsigned and reduced in size to 152 mm x 167 mm. Album R represents the first use of a special delivery proof from the ten that were set aside.

Four More Proofs Leave the Inventory

Two more complete sets of Fourth Bureau Issue die proofs were compiled in 1925 from the inventory of proofs. PMG New presented one set to Calvin Coolidge who had become president after the death of Warren Harding. It included the 10-cent Motorcycle proof 1160102. New also kept the other set, which included the 10-cent Motorcycle proof 1160096, for himself. These were the first sets to include proofs for the new half–cent Hale and one-and-a-half-cent Warren G. Harding stamps of the Fourth Bureau Issue.

The inventory of die proofs was further depleted by a set of signed Fourth Bureau Issue die proofs requested by New’s office on July 7, 1925. The purpose of the request is not documented. This set was returned to the BEP in October, 1933. It resides there today. 10-cent Motorcycle proof 1160097 is part of the set.

More die proofs, including 10-cent Motorcycle proof 1160098, were taken from the proof inventory when a die proof of each stamp issued up to 1926 was cut down to stamp size and used in a post office exhibit at the Sesquicentennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. This set also included proofs for the new 17-cent Woodrow Wilson and 13-cent Benjamin Harrison stamps. There were now 25 different stamp denominations in the Fourth Bureau Issue.

A Change in the Post Office Department

President Coolidge declined to run for president in 1928. Herbert Hoover, who was the Secretary of Commerce, received the Republican nomination for president and won the November election. Hoover chose to replace several members of the presidential cabinet. New would not be retained as the PMG, but would be replaced by Walter F. Brown who was one of Hoover’s assistants in the Commerce Department. The Hoover administration would take office on March 4, 1929.

PMG New Rises to the Occasion

New decided to provide more die proofs for himself and his acquaintances before leaving office. Superintendent of Stamps Michael Eidsness wrote a memo to the BEP on January 11 stating, “The Postmaster General desires to be furnished with seven sets of die proofs of the postage stamps issued since the beginning of the 1922 series of postage stamps.” Each set would include all 25 stamps of the Fourth Bureau Issue; the black Harding, and all of the commemorative, airmail, special delivery, and special handling stamps that had been issued during the Harding and Coolidge administrations. There would be 58 die proofs in each set.

Additional die proofs were needed to fully make up the seven sets. This ranged from none to three for specific issues. Three more 10-cent Motorcycle proofs were pulled on January 19 since only four were still available in the Post Office Department inventory. The new proofs are easily differentiated from the other four proofs since the new proofs have six-digit control numbers while the others have seven-digit control numbers. This numbering was true for all issues in the sets.

Another difference between the 1922 and 1929 proofs are their stamp image colors.

Also by 1929, India paper had been replaced by a special white wove paper as the proof paper for die proofs. A forward in a 2006 W. Curtis Livingston Essays and Proofs auction catalogue mentions a simple and definitive way of distinguishing the two proof papers on and off card. It states that the two papers fluoresce differently under ultraviolet light.

Each unsigned die proof in the seven sets was backdated with its approval date and signed by the same individual who had signed the original approval die proof (Fig. 7). This was not difficult since everyone was still working somewhere in the Coolidge administration. An exception to this were the 10-cent Special Delivery die proofs. The four die proofs remaining in the inventory had been signed in 1922 and only the newly pulled proofs required a signing. As shown below, there is a difference in the formats between the 1922 signings (top) and the 1929 signings (bottom).

PMG New Leaves in Grand Style

New distributed the seven die proof sets on March 1. One set went to President Coolidge who had also received a set in 1925. One set went to Glover who had become the Second Assistant Postmaster General in 1925. One set went to Glover’s successor, Robert Regar. One set went to Colonel Fred Chamberlain of the U.S. Army, a close friend of New. The remaining two sets went to New’s wife, though one was disposed of shortly after. New was now responsible for ten 10-cent Motorcycle proofs, nine which were signed, that were potentially available to collectors.

The FDR Proofs

Six die proofs were made in 1933 of each of all stamps issued from 1894 to 1933. All of these proofs are on wove proof paper which was reduced in size such that it did not fully extend across the die sinkage, but was uniformly short on all sides. The control numbers of the proofs were six digits starting with “33”. A set of these proofs, 288 in number, was given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, our country’s most famous stamp collector of the time. The 10-cent Motorcycle proof has control number 332087 and is in the reddish violet shade of the then current 10-cent special delivery stamp (Fig. 8). Roosevelt’s stamp collection, including the proofs, was dispersed in auction in 1946. Another set of the 1933 proofs was stored in the USPOD vaults. There is no record of the disposal of the other four sets of proofs.

10-cent Motorcycle Proofs at the BEP

Proof 1160097 (Fig. 9) was one of the ten 10-cent Motorcycle proofs in the Post Office Department inventory. It became part of the two Fourth Bureau Issue sets assembled and distributed by PMG New in 1925. Its proof set was returned to the BEP in 1933 and assembled in an album. Note the cloth binding at the top of the proof card. It is also signed by PMG Work, but in a format different from all of the other signed 10-cent Motorcycle die  proofs. There is no evidence why this occurred. Its control number appears on a BEP Engraving Division Stamp History sheet, erroneously, as the proof initially approved by PMG Work. I believe that the Fourth Bureau Issue history sheets were created after the above proof set was returned to the BEP. The album’s proof control numbers were conveniently used on the history sheets as the initial  die approval references since several of the formerly approved die proofs were no longer in house.

In addition to the eleven die proofs submitted to Glover on June 12, 1922, there was a designer’s model, backdated to April 14. The BEP requested that it be signed by PMG Work and Glover and returned to the BEP for their “approved for production” records (Fig. 10).

There is a gray-violet die proof with a blue control number 957868A on the front of its card backing in the Special Delivery file (Fig. 11). BEP records indicate that it was pulled on May 25, 1946. Similar proofs also exist for the Fourth Bureau Issue.

The 1922 Special Delivery file, like other files, has an index card with a small proof that is used as a finding aid (Fig. 12).

Die Proof Control Numbers

The difference between control number formats among the various 10-cent Motorcycle proofs is illustrated in Fig. 13.

A Brief Summary

Eighty-eight 10-cent Motorcycle large die proofs were pulled by the BEP (Table 1). Those in the table that are noted as Unknown, Bradford, and Modeling probably do not exist today. Fourteen of the other proofs left the confines of the Post Office Department and the BEP (Table 2). I have not been able to account for two of them. It is possible that two of the PMG New sets never made it into philatelic hands. I say this because I have been able to account for two PMG New die proofs in a similar study that I made for the 11-cent Hayes stamp of the Fourth Bureau Issue.